“A circus without animals,” Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown told the Denver Post in January, “is like going to a baseball game without a pitcher.” Thankfully, Denverites have had a big-league baseball team long enough to get the metaphor. Voting in yesterday’s primary election, they overwhelmingly rejected Initiative 100, a proposed ban on circus animals that was publicly promoted by a 15-year-old activist but quietly bankrolled by wealthy, out-of-state activist groups — including the grossly misnamed Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). But the activists aren’t likely to go away quietly. Circus lovers in Colorado may be high-fiving each other to calliope music and Sousa marches this morning, but their celebration could be short-lived.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that HSUS poured nearly $47,000 into Denver’s circus-ban effort. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle even showed up to campaign personally in the mile-high city.

For its part, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) begged Denver’s mayor for an anti-circus endorsement after the City Council voted unanimously to condemn the animal rights effort. And the $20 million Fund for Animals held a July news conference on the steps of Denver’s City and County Building, complete with inflammatory rhetoric about animal “abuse.”

Both of Denver’s major newspapers saw through the smoke. The Denver Post editorialized last month that the best reasons for voting “no” on the circus-ban question were “the basic principles of freedom of choice and expression … people who enjoy circuses should be able to attend them.” And the Rocky Mountain News noted:

There’s no reason to try to ban circuses anywhere. Circuses visiting Denver have never been charged with the abuse, neglect or mistreatment of animals. They’re regulated under local, state and federal laws, and regularly visited by inspectors. Veterinarians travel with the circus and local vets are on call … We can’t put ourselves in the mind of a big cat, so we have no idea whether a lioness would rather fight with hyenas over carcasses in the wild or take room service in a series of North American cities. Life expectancy is, however, often longer in the circus than on the savannah.

Still, freedom-loving circus fans expect more battles to come. The Save the Circus Foundation warns that “activists who would take away our circus are still infiltrating our city with the same agenda.” One Foundation representative told ABC-TV7 in Denver that he expects “to fight a similar battle in the next election.” While Initiative 100’s teen spokesperson may have had good intentions, he said, “the people she was getting her information from were not quite so genuine.”

The Center for Consumer Freedom said much the same thing in a July 27 letter published by the Rocky Mountain News. “The animal-rights movement,” we wrote, “has certainly gotten out of control when it dares tell the rest of us what we can eat, wear, or even enjoy with our children — especially when a “local” ballot initiative is being driven by mammoth out-of- state organizations … But by openly engaging in this sort of activism, perhaps the [Humane Society of the United States] will give Americans an honest look at its real objectives.”